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Yiddish: The Language of Indecent

A Dig Deeper Article by the Production Dramaturgy team for Indecent

Black-and-white photographic postcard of Yiddish authors at the Czernowitz Conference, 1908. From left to right : Avrom Reyzen, I. L. Peretz, Sholem Asch, Khayim Zhitlovski, and Hersh Dovid Nomberg. Source: College of Charleston Libraries

"Peretz: Yiddish is our mother tongue. The language of our myths, our songs… Asch: Our streets. Our gutters. Our desire."

Yiddish is an international language steeped in the culture of the eastern and central European Jews who created it. Emerging in the 11th century, Yiddish is a linguistic fusion, blending elements of Hebrew, Aramaic, Slavic, and Romance languages. Beyond its oral usage, Yiddish holds a distinguished place as a literary medium, with luminaries like Sholem Asch employing it to narrate compelling tales of Jewish life.

During the early 1900s, Isaac Leib Peretz, played a pivotal role in nurturing Yiddish literature, transforming his home into a hub where writers could convene, share their work, and contribute to the burgeoning legacy. Revered as the father of modern Yiddish literature, I. L. Peretz left an indelible mark on the evolution of the language's literary landscape.

The realm of Yiddish artistic expression extends to the theatrical domain, with a vibrant tradition of professional Yiddish theater. This cultural phenomenon takes center stage in Indecent, where the dynamics of when Yiddish is and isn't spoken serve as a vital narrative component. The play predominantly unfolds in English, enabling universal comprehension for the audience. Yet, the dramatic convention ingeniously dictates that when characters articulate in English without accents, they are, in fact, speaking Yiddish. Conversely, when accents infuse their English dialogue, it signifies communication in the English language. This linguistic interplay adds layers of complexity to the narrative, making language itself an integral element of the theatrical experience. By the end of the show, we all understand the language.

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